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SOOKE HISTORY: Aviation pioneer and economic icon flew in international race

London to Victoria Air Race included Claude Butler
Claude Butler seated in the cockpit of his Aerostar 601 turboprop after completing the London to Victoria Air Race commemorating B.C.’s Centennial in 1971. (Submitted by Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

Today’s photo features Claude Butler, eldest of the Butler Brothers, who have played such an important role in the economic development of Sooke and Greater Victoria.

Claude Butler is seated in the cockpit of his Aerostar 601 turboprop after completing the London to Victoria Air Race commemorating B.C.’s Centennial in 1971.

The air race for small planes, the brainchild of B.C. Premier WAC Bennett, saw 57 competing aircraft starting from a Royal Air Force base in Berkshire, England, on July 1, with an enthusiastic Sooke entrant, Claude Butler and his copilot Arnold Aasen who’d been a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot.

Right after the Second World War, Claude, Wally and Eric Butler of Saanich began their foray into the Sooke forest industry, which employed hundreds of men. At the same time, they took over an existing sand and gravel business, which has mushroomed into an extensive concrete industry empire, perhaps dominating their many business endeavours.

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The demands of time led businessman Claude Butler to purchase a Cessna 170, which, when flying to Sooke, he landed in a clearing between Ella Road and Woodside Farm. They bought the land from Eustace Arden and built a hangar called the Arden Airstrip. Brothers Wally and Tom Butler each gained their pilot’s licenses and sometimes flew.

The Butlers were always up for new challenges, so it was no surprise that Claude entered the race.

“The Centennial Air Race from London to Victoria has a special place in my affections.” said Premier Bennett.

Prime Minster Pierre Elliot Trudeau said: “To all competitors in the 1971 London-Victoria Air Race I send good wishes on behalf of the Canadian people. Appropriately, the first aircraft to take off will be piloted by British Columbian Claude Butler.”

Countries represented in race sponsored by the Canadian and B.C. governments included Australia, Ireland, Eire, U.S., England, Finland, and Germany.

The prize winner was a team from West Germany flying a Swearingen Melin III. At the same time, other aircraft models included Cessna, Comanche, Dussault, Falcon, Beech, Beaver, Lear Jet, Piper, and Harvard.

Butler’s Aerostar was a non-winner in the event. Still, Sooke had the distinction of hosting the pilots at a special loggers’ sports event at the Sooke Flats, a highlight, along with the awards dinner held at the Empress Hotel.

Claude Butler often took on other flights as part of the family’s contribution to their community; one such in the late 1950s was when he flew Walter Banner, a young father diagnosed with cancer, to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Walt’s eldest son, Mike Banner says, “Though the trip was not successful, it was a fine thing for Claude to do.”


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email